‘Report Card’ Shows Water Quality Improvement at SoCal Beaches

Byline: Taylor Hill

‘Report Card’ Shows Water Quality Improvement at SoCal Beaches

SANTA MONICA — Many favorite swimming and surfing locations earned better water quality “grades” this year on Heal the Bay’s annual end-of-summer beach “report card.”

The Santa Monica-based nonprofit environmental organization’s report card rates water quality at 447 California locations from Humboldt County to San Diego County — awarding A-to-F grades for beaches, based on results of weekly monitoring by local health agencies.

“Marine water samples are analyzed for bacteria that indicate pollution from numerous sources, including fecal waste,” the report states. “The better the grade a location receives, the lower the risk of illness to beach users.”

The 2011 Heal the Bay report card included beaches in Washington and Oregon for the second year, as the program has expanded to include 240 additional monitoring locations along the northern Pacific coastline.

California once again earned high marks for most beaches, with 92 percent of sites receiving A or B grades during the high-use beach-going season — making the past season one of the cleanest summers on record. However, 37 locations received fair-to-poor water quality grades.

In an effort to improve water quality at habitually low-graded beaches, a $4 million three-year Source Identification Pilot Program (SIPP) began during summer, with researchers from multiple California universities, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Southern California Coastal Water Resource Project working together to develop and implement sanitary survey/source-tracking protocols at some of California’s most polluted beaches.

The goals of the study are to develop a suite of the best available methods for identifying the sources of fecal contamination in environmental samples, conduct a reconnaissance of fecal pollution along the coast of California and develop methods to conduct upstream source identification in problem watersheds — and to transfer technology to other laboratories across California.

Summer Grades for Southern California Beaches 

San Diego County: Overall water quality at beaches in San Diego has been excellent and similar to last summer, with all locations receiving an A or B grade. Of the 73 water-monitoring locations, 72 received A grades with only one location earning a B grade.

Orange County: Water quality at beaches in Orange County this past summer was just slightly lower than last summer, but still excellent overall, with 94 percent of beaches receiving an A grade. San Clemente’s Poche Beach still continues to have poor water quality and received an F grade for summer. The historically poor water quality at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point improved over last year, jumping from a C grade up to an A grade during summer.

Although Dana Point’s Baby Beach areas showed excellent water quality the past two summers, two of four monitoring locations (Baby Beach buoy line and Baby Beach swim area) received C grades this summer.

Los Angeles County:
 Compared to last summer, Los Angeles County water quality grades improved from 79 percent of beaches receiving A and B grades up to 85 percent receiving the high marks. Avalon Beach at Catalina Island — a notorious member of Heal the Bay’s “Beach Bummer” list, which marks California’s 10 most polluted beaches — remained on the list for another summer, as all five monitoring locations exhibited extremely poor water quality by scoring all D and F grades.

Change may be coming, however, as the city of Avalon has budgeted more than $5 million toward a proposed beach water quality improvement plan — including sewer system upgrades and repairs. Actual repair and renovation work is scheduled to begin Oct. 15 and be completed by March 1, 2012.

Overall water quality at Santa Monica Bay beaches was very good, with slightly better water quality than last summer (89 percent of monitoring locations received A or B grades, compared to 87 percent last year). This is the second year in a row that the chronically polluted Santa Monica Pier area earned an A grade.

The following Santa Monica Bay beaches received F grades this summer: Escondido Creek, Solstice Canyon at Dan Blocker County Beach, Surfrider Beach (breach point), Malibu Pier, Carbon Beach at Sweetwater Canyon and Topanga State Beach — all of them in the North Bay.

A dramatic improvement was seen this summer in water quality for Long Beach, with 100 percent of beaches receiving A and B grades. The change marks a 27 percent improvement over last year (when there were 73 percent A and B grades), as well as the third summer in a row Long Beach has shown improved water quality.

In general, beach water quality at the main beaches in Long Beach tends to be affected by the Los Angeles River, the report stated. This is supported by an extensive source tracking study, which showed the vast majority of bacterial contamination at the city’s beaches was carried there by the river.

San Pedro’s Cabrillo Beach continues to earn poor water quality grades. Cabrillo Beach harborside at the restrooms has earned F grades for all time periods over the last eight years. The city of Los Angeles has implemented several water quality improvement projects totaling $15 million, with no improvement noted.

Ventura County: Overall water quality at beaches throughout Ventura County remains among the best in the state. All monitored beaches received A grades in this report.

Santa Barbara County:
 The water quality at beaches in Santa Barbara County was good and similar to last summer, with 87 percent of beaches receiving A or B grades (compared to 88 percent last summer). Gaviota State Beach (C) and Arroyo Burro (F) were the only two locations that did not earn A or B grades for Santa Barbara County this summer.

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